School counselors by the nature of their training are developmental specialists, and in practice, professional judgments about a person's problems are often based on developmental concerns. For instance, school consultation often focuses on whether problems manifested by a child are "normal" developmental concerns or whether there are other explanations for the behavior. It is a good strategy therefore to review the developmental theories to help understand a counselor's possible view regarding the needs of individuals during counseling and at different points in their lives. The goal of this paper is to highlight some classical ideas from the developmental literature and present contemporary ideas relating to concerns of individuals in the 21st century. The major developmentalists reviewed are Arnold Gesell, Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg and Erik Erikson.
Erik Erikson proposed eight developmental stages as an elaboration of Freud's psychosexual stages. Erikson believed that an individual's interactions with others characterize development and that successful social interactions constitute the major task to be achieved at each stage. Further, healthy development results from the successful resolution of psychosocial crises encountered at each stage of development, and failure to resolve these crises results in problems. Successful resolution of each stage leads progressively to hope and trust, autonomy, initiative and purpose, industry and competence, identity, intimacy, care, and wisdom and integrity. Movement from one stage to the next is conditioned on successful completion of each developmental stage.
Counselors are concerned with how people think, because problem solving, decision-making and other interventions are governed by an individual's thinking. Jean Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory focuses on how individuals think and how the thinking process is unique at different developmental stages. Piaget describes the thinking process of four developmental stages; the Sensorimotor (birth to 2 years of age); Preoperational (2 to 7 years of age); Concrete Operations (7 to 11 years of age); and Formal Operations (11 years to adulthood). Each of these stages is characterized by unique ways of thinking and therefore determines how adults interact with others. The preoperational, concrete and formal stages are important concerns for counselors.
The Concrete Operational Stage is a productive period for children, during which they actively learn by doing, using the environment to stimulate their thinking. Doing is a way of becoming. Elementary school children cooperatively play with one another and begin to consider other children's points of view. Because children learn best when they can manipulate, use hands-on activities, and make the abstract concrete, counselors may use the developing thinking of children throughout the elementary school years to plan appropriate guidance activities. Activities such as playing, drawing, using clay or making lists often result in children producing products that reveal their inner thinking. By engaging each other in different types of groups, children become less egocentric in their approach to understanding problems and in the generation of solutions.
Hypothetical and abstract reasoning are the hallmarks of the formal operations stage. Individuals are able to look systematically at a problem and are able to understand a variety of possibilities. This cognitive capacity lends itself to greater autonomy in decision-making. Individuals are able to engage in what-if thinking. For instance, students can imagine and project...